In anticipation of the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man 2, I will be reviewing the films that started it all. It’s time to wrap things up with:
The fact that people more clearly see the problems in Spider-Man 3 than they do those of Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 is mystifying. In terms of quality they’re all equally messy and insipid, but in terms of quantity I suppose it’s correct to say that Spider-Man 3, indeed, reigns supreme.
There is so much more stupidity to go around in Spider-Man 3 and so many more scenes to talk about and make fun of in various comedic fashions. Director Sam Raimi stopped making films based on the web-slinging Marvel Comics hero after this one and seeing why is no difficulty.
The plot: we find out that things are finally pretty okay in the life of Spidey’s alter-ego Peter Parker, played by Tobey Maguire for what’s thankfully the final time. He saves New York from crime, people love him and he has happily informed his aunt May (Rosemary Harris) that he plans on marrying his actress girlfriend Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). But ’tis not all fun and games when his old friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), having found the technology that used to belong to his father Norman a.k.a The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), starts chasing him down to avenge his father’s death; something which he, miraculously, still hasn’t been told isn’t actually Peter’s damn fault.
It doesn’t get better when Peter makes Harry lose his memory during one of their fights and Mary-Jane starts rediscovering her old feelings for Harry. Her motivation for ditching Peter again? Oh just that he’s too busy saving the city to be with her. Really, if I were Peter I’d stick with Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), the woman he later steals from his fellow photographer and rival at work Eddie Brock (Topher Grace); this after, amazingly, being turned into an even more obnoxious emo prat by a hostile alien organism from space. This, folks, is The Symbiote, and in case it wasn’t clear that this thing’s made of evil, it clarifies this by giving Peter a black version of the Spidey suit, a goth kid haircut, and a wardrobe that the film tries to convince me shrieks of womanizing bad boy. It also makes him break out in a jazz dance number later on. Dark psychological conflicts – you’re doin’ it a wee bit wrong.
So yes, The Symbiote is in this movie, and you’d be forgiven if you didn’t catch it with so much of the focus being on either the Harry-M.J.-Peter-Gwen-Eddie love pentagon, useless side characters like Peter’s Russian landlord (the daughter of whom is an even better girlfriend option) or The Sandman played by Thomas Haden Church. Also, J.K. Simmons is back as Peter and Eddie’s hilarious boss, Jameson, but not even he could save this one.
So apparently, having two villains in the form of a vengeful Harry Osborn and a whiny Eddie Brock, who later acquires The Symbiote himself and becomes Vemon for five or so seconds, wasn’t enough. Instead did the we not only need to throw Sandman into the mix as well, but we had to go and retcon the death of Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) from the first movie and say that HE was the real killer. Yeah, the film was feeling a bit short on the subplots, wasn’t it?
Besides that, Sandman’s tale involves escaped convict Flint Marko, who steals money to help his sick daughter. One night, whilst running from the police in the country side, he falls into a pit where a bunch of scientists are for some reason starting an experiment to alter the molecular structure of sand. As Marko finds himself stuck in said pit, the scientists conclude that the interference on their motion detectors is in fact a bird. So, let me just recap this for a sec, because it bears recapping: not only do these idiots not check if it’s actually a bird before jumping to that random conclusion and not only do they mistake a grown human male for a bird, but they decide to run with an experiment that operates on such a miniscule level that the interference of something as small as a leaf could alter the results, when the interference is actually the size of a buff Thomas Haden Church! I wish I could live in the whimsical world that these writers inhabit.
An equally profound moment is when Eddie Brock and Gwen Stacy’s father George (James Cromwell) are watching as Gwen, the most meaningful person in both of their lives, is hanging from a skyscraper, shrieking for her life in what’s basically a tacked on reenactment of 9/11. Brock’s reaction seeing to this? Just casually telling George that he’s banging his daughter right before he starts taking more pictures, and yet this movie has the audacity to expect its audience to view Brock as a sympathetic character. A suggestion: try writing a character that acts like a homo sapien would act upon seeing the person they love almost fall to their death; then we can discuss character sympathy, depth, and whatever else it is your film lacks, Mr. Raimi.
There are two scenes I like in this film. The first takes place shortly after The Symbiote has put Peter in full-on douche mode and prompted an upset Mary Jane to go to Harry for comfort. What we eventually get is a seemingly improvised scene where Kirsten Dunst and James Franco, in a sequence that feels like it’s from a completely different film of a completely different genre, make an omellette together, drop it on the floor and laugh about in a way that feels more genuine and human than anything I’ve seen in any of these so-called movies. And speaking of scenes that feel like they’re from other films altogether, this brings me to the second scene that I like. In fact, I dare say absolutely love it – it’s the birth of Sandman.
This scene is the only genuinely great moment in this entire trilogy. The imagery, Christopher Young‘s score, the way Marko tries to move but keeps collapsing back into a pile of sand, the fact that it’s purely visual and no inept dialogue is uttered; I swear, if this scene was released separately as a short film, it would surely win an Oscar. Allegedly, the music for the ‘Birth of Sandman’ scene was even redone multiple times to fully capture the feeling of sorrow and hopelessness they were going for. Where was this level of effort when it came to making the Symbiote subplot effectively dark? Or tying together all the stories in a neat way? Anything?
The existence of such a beautiful scene in such a terrible film perfectly illustrates what a shoddily slapped together cluster of a film it is. Only in Spider-Man 3 will seconds have passed when you’ve had time to jump from quirky romantic comedy, to artsy short film, to squicky sci-fi/horror flick, to comedic musical filled with silly dance numbers and emo kids. Oh and there’s a superhero in there somewhere too, I’m sure. It’s just a tragic ultra-mess of scenes that try to be scary, scenes that try to be cutesy, scenes that try to be funny, and dialogue that’s so bereft of subtext that it prevents my brain from composing a witty analogy.
I know Sam Raimi isn’t entirely to blame for this, I know he didn’t want to toss in Venom for three minutes at the very end of the film, and I know he isn’t wholly guilty of all the poor writing. But this film is what it is and deserves no more than a 1/5. Quoth the black-suited Spidey: “Good riddance.”